The Duke Spirit performing as part of the UKULA BRIGHT LIGHTS FESTIVAL with Elbow , islands , Stirling , the Call Up , the Meligrove Band , Mission District , the Empires and the Coastat the Stone Distillery Fermenting Cellar in the Distillery District (55 Mill), Saturday (November 5), 3 pm. $25. email@example.com Rating: NNNNN
Debbie Harry, Polly Harvey, Chrissie Hynde - name any charismatic woman who fronted a rock band and Liela Moss of the Duke Spirit will have already heard and shrugged off the comparison. While the husky-voiced howler is clearly chuffed to be considered in such esteemed company, she can't help but let out a chuckle when I ask her what it's like to be hyped by the British music weeklies as the second coming of Patti Smith.
"Stuff like that always makes me laugh," she says, closing the door to the rehearsal room where the rest of the Duke Spirit are preparing for their breakout tour. "I mean, I love Patti Smith - she's an absolute magical wonder - but it's really only been in the last couple of years that I've gotten into her music. I didn't own any of her albums growing up. I wasn't that cool.
"The singers I admired were people like Björk and Courtney Love. They exuded this forthright confidence, to the point of being abrasive, which was really appealing. I hated all those coquettish, flirty girl singers."
There's no danger of anyone confusing Moss with Natalie Appleton or Kylie Minogue, at least not after hearing her snarl up a storm on the Duke Spirit's wildly entertaining 2003 debut, Roll, Spirit, Roll (City Rockers), or their more composed follow-up, Cuts Across The Land (Loog/Universal).
However, don't be surprised to see Moss soon topping Appleton in sexy singer polls. There appears to be a concerted effort to make Moss into a sex symbol, however uninterested she may be in playing the game. Still, the fact that the media have been focusing more on her than the other four blokes who play the instruments and co-write the songs hasn't gone unnoticed.
"I don't mind that my gender is a talking point for the press. Being the only woman in the group, who also happens to sing the songs, it was bound to happen.
"But this whole sex symbol thing is a bit weird. Of course, rock 'n' roll is based on lust and sexual gratification, so there's nothing wrong with that sort of base energy coming across in what we do. It's a good thing. I'm down with that. I just wouldn't want anyone to think we're playing that up in a crass way because 'sex sells' or whatever.
"I've got a real problem with commodifying a certain type of body image. That whole American way of using images of young women with bare midriffs to sell records to sad old geezers fucks me right off!"
Fortunately, what's great about the Duke Spirit isn't entirely wrapped up in their attention-getting front person. They're actually a smashingly good rock 'n' roll combo who understand the importance of a good groove and the judicious use of dissonance.
You might not get that from listening to their overly polished Cuts Across The Land album, but that righteous rawness comes through loud and fuzzy on the demos and radio sessions included on the Souvenirs bonus disc that came with a limited-edition first run of the album's UK release.
In fact, I much prefer the demos to the cleaned-up studio product, and evidently, I'm not alone.
"A number of people have made similar comments about liking the rawness of our demos," allows Moss. "I can understand that. We do things quite simply when we're demoing songs, just throwing everything together as we go to document ideas that we've gotten just minutes before.
"There's something nice about capturing that moment, although I really like the studio album proper because you can actually hear everything. For our next recording, I think we'll try to keep more of that messy quality of our demos."